When you’re sitting in the stands for a basketball game, cheering and screaming for the Hawks to destroy the other team (especially Iona) you’ve probably seen Robbie Panasuk standing on the sidelines. Or, maybe you recognize him from the HERO Designated Driving Campaign billboard on Route 35, or you saw him and other members of the basketball team on stage last spring in Zeta Tau Alpha’s philanthropy event, Big Man on Campus. But who is the manager of the basketball team, really? Is he actually 30 years old like everyone says he is? Today, we’ll find out more about the guy with the Minions backpack who sometimes is referred to as “Ruber.”
After attending one year of college in Virginia, Robbie took a semester off before his family decid-ed to move back to New Jersey. “I stayed behind which was not a good choice on my part,” Robbie remembered. “I thought I was ready to be an adult; I wasn’t.” So, he moved back to New Jersey, put in one semester at Ocean County Community College, and then applied to Monmouth, thanks to the recommendation of his uncle, a former Monmouth football coach. When he told me this, I squinted in suspicion. “Didn’t you drop out of Princeton,” I ask him? He laughed at me. “I bought a Princeton sweater at TJ Maxx and wear it around and tell people I transferred from there because I am a liar and that’s what I do.”
Robbie is definitely someone who doesn’t paint himself in a serious light. He’s ea-ger to joke around, whether it be around his friends or onstage in Greek events. He participated in Big Man on Campus twice, and ended up winning his second time around. “I like to believe that I can be decently funny,” he says when asked about his winning strategy. “And making people laugh is something I like to do as often as possible.”
Danielle Pinelli, a junior English and Elementary Education student and Philanthropy Chair for ZTA, was glad to have Robbie as the winner. “Having someone who is as involved at Monmouth and the community as he is representing our sorority is really great,” she says. “He has al-ways supported ZTA and all that we do… he did an amazing job in the competition and I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome.”
The fusion of athletics and the Greek community is something Robbie hoped to accomplish by rep-resenting basketball in the event, and getting the team together to participate in other events, like Alpha Kappa Psi’s “Hawk Feud”. “I feel like Greek life is its own unity, and then there’s sports life and they’re all separated,” Robbie explained. “It was cool to bridge them together and show everyone there’s not a big difference between them; we’re all just college students.”
Eddie Occhipinti, Associate Athletics Director, has seen Robbie in the classroom and on the court. “On the basketball court he is more vocal, but for such a funny young man he is pretty serious with both class and basketball,” he said.
When you’re watching the team play, it can be hard to remember they’re just stu-dents. But take it from an insider—the basketball team is the nicest guys on campus. “Ninety percent of the time you see a basketball player on campus, they have headphones in. And they might not be smiling,” Robbie said. “But every guy on the team is the nicest kid you’d ever meet. You’d be surprised that if you said hi to them, they’d be so surprised you said hi to them and they’d like to have a conversa-tion.”
The bonds built between the team and the staff are the most important relationships to Robbie. From Coach King Rice’s leadership to the family-like aspect of the guys on the team, it’s a special group of guys that most students don’t get a peek into. No one has anything negative to say about anyone else in this team.
“Rob is a great kid that we love having around,” said Justin Robinson, a senior communication student and point guard on the team. “Without having him in our group, a lot of stuff that we’re able to do wouldn’t be possible.”
“The guys are the best, every single one of them, we’re all best friends and they’re the most down to earth guys and that’s why the program has gotten to where it’s been,” Robbie stated. “[Coach Rice] is an amazing coach and he recruited all of them individually; those are all his guys from freshmen year. He knows exactly what he’s doing and he built an amazing program.”
One of the best moments for the basketball team was earning a win over Notre Dame last year. “My best friend plays for Notre Dame, I’ve been a fan since I was born, but being able to upset a major rank team was an amazing highlight,” remembered Robbie.
Colin Stewart, a senior computer sciences student and shooting guard, remembers this win as a huge moment as well. “There was almost nobody in the world who believed we even had a chance to win, even after beating UCLA, but all we needed was for our team to believe and we got it done,” he said.
Managing the team is important to Robbie, not only because of his love for the sport and the team, but because it’s something he’d like to focus on after college as well. “I would love to be a college basketball coach. Basketball is my passion,” he said. He feels inspired by Sam Ferry, Assistant Coach of the basketball team. “[Ferry] was a manager in college actual-ly,” Robbie pointed out. “The fact that he’s doing extremely well for himself at a young age is something that’s very, very inspiring.”
When he’s not on the basketball court, Robbie is probably driving Monmouth students to the bars. “I started designated driving when I got my license at 16 (you get it extremely early in VA), and I have never drank in my life.” Robbie confessed. “I just don’t care for it, at all.” After DDing for his whole life, Robbie thought he should spread the word to his peers, so he reached out to the Monmouth community through social media.
Instead of using Uber or a taxi, students can call Robbie for a safe ride home. He said, “A lot of people call for rides and I’m thankful for that because then I get to help them.” This service led him to be recognized by the HERO Designated Driving Campaign Club, who chose him as the “HERO of the Year” after Robbie was nominated by friends on the team.
“I was beyond thankful for that. Again, it’s something I’ve been doing since I was 16, so to be rewarded for something I just do naturally was really nice, really unexpected and for everyone who had nominated me… it really did mean a lot to me,” Robbie said. “People don’t understand it because I’m not a serious guy, but being given an award like that really did mean a lot.”
Suanne Schaad, Substance Awareness Coordinator and Advisor for the HERO Campaign, hasn’t seen anything like Robbie’s dedication to dedicated driving before. “Robbie has been the quintessential DD of the Year!” she exclaimed. “He truly embodies what it is to be a Designated Driver. He is a well-respected, intelligent, outgoing young man who is full of personality and generosity. He makes it is mission to keep not only his close circle of friends safe, but strangers too.”
At the end of the day, Robbie is someone who loves superheroes and helping out his friends. Next time you see him on campus, don’t judge the Minions backpack. He might be worth saying hel-lo to.
IMAGE COURTESY of Robbie Panasuk